SAY MY NAME
Bethany Yellowtail is the creator and CEO of B. Yellowtail, an indigenous clothing line, and the founder of the B. Yellowtail Collective a brand of jewelry, textiles and accessories from indigenous artists across North America.
Born and raised in southern Montana, Bethany Yellowtail is a proud member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribes. Her hometown of Wyola Montana sits in the foothills of the Rockies with a population of just 215 people. Bethany’s native name is Ammaakealachehiibaachilakacheesh, meaning “Overcomes through Faith.”
Creative mentorship is often lacking in a remote area like Wyola because many creators leave for the big city to find work. Bethany persevered in a small town by showing her initiative. Bethany’s grandmother and auntie had taught her sewing by the eighth grade. By the time she was a senior in high school, she was the only student still taking home economics, giving her crucial one-on-one time with her the teacher, Patricia Mischke, who would eventually nudge Bethany to go fashion school. Mischke went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and recommended Bethany as a student.
Arriving in LA from rural Montana was a shock to Bethany. Overtime she adapted to the large, crowded campus, while still maintaining her unique voice and a strong sense of identity.
“It was hard and stressful but an extremely valuable learning experience and a big time gut check. It really made me realize how badly I wanted to be in this industry, and that I could stick it out. Even if I was scrapping for sleep and money, eventually it opened a door to where I am now.”
Bethany’s work and her native identity cannot be separated. Her work furthers her mission of employment for indigenous artists, economic development for native land, and social justice for marginalized communities. In a world where indigenous designs are often stolen, twisted and misappropriated for profit, Bethany is changing the narrative by promoting her own creations.
Bethany persevered despite hardship by having faith in a meaningful future. If you had told Bethany as a child what her future would be, she might have laughed and said it was highly unlikely. Perhaps she would have thought it impossible because she was native, because she was rural, or for any other host of reasons. Yet her story makes perfect sense today not because of the likelihood but because of the unlikelihood, and so we celebrate her perseverance.
Affirming your identity and that you are exactly who you are meant to be, is infinitely empowering for a creator. In the 1st episode Bethany shares her sadness in the wake of a break up. She says that in her tradition, “the way we pray is to say our name over and over again before the creator”. By repeating her name Ammaakealachehiibaachilakacheesh (meaning “Overcomes through Faith”) she came up with the design for a dress “out of that heartbreak”.
what is it like to create something out of personal pain?
In the 4th episode, Bethany comes to her hometown where as a child she dreamed of being a fashion designer. Her family is still supportive of her decision to move to follow her dream, saying “Her calling was elsewhere.” and “We aren’t supposed to just have what’s given to you and be content.” Yet the fashion world of LA remains distant and unclear to Bethany’s family.
Could you do something new if it meant your close friends and family would not understand it?
In the 2nd episode Bethany brings her work to the National Museum of the American Indian. Even at a museum whose specific mission is to uplift native culture, Bethany has to adapt her work for institutional platform. As clunky as it can be, she says “We have to be welcoming to having that dialogue.”
In the 6th episode, Bethany that natives have “always been fashion designers… we don’t need anyone to do it for us.” She doesn’t feel the need to prove her contributions, yet when it comes to the fashion industry she says native models “never get to be in fashion”. In an industry that has neglected or appropriated native fashion, Bethany has the peculiar opportunity to represent native fashion to a larger audience, but she avoids tokenizing or speaking for all native designers.
can you adapt or edit your work and remain authentic?